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Full text of "A Conversation in Hades"

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A CONVERSATION IN HADES. 

Interlocutors, Lord Byron and M. Honore de Balzac. The language used, 
a kind of' spiritual Volapuh. Time, the present. 

Lord Byron. Good evening, M. de Balzac. Hades 
seems to suit you to-day better than it did Achilles some 
time since, if we maj T trust the authority- of Homer, whom we 
shades at least know for certain to have been a living man. 
Your face is so wreathed in smiles that I'm willing to bet 
you've had pleasant news from " that dim spot which men 
call earth ", to quote an English poet who wasn't perhaps as 
well known in France in your day as he should have been. 
Come, let us have it. Have men at last arrived at the point 
of fairly appreciating the Comedie humaine as the most 
stupendous production of genius since Shakspere wrote his 
plays? 

Balzac. No, my dear Lord Byron, they have hardly 
got that far yet, but I am steadily growing in reputation both 
in and out of France. It is true that the praise of my coun- 
trymen is still a little grudging, that they still harp on my 
style and set Flaubert up against me. But the same thing 
has happened to my great forerunner, and yours by the way, 
the good Sir Walter, who is lectured on his style and actually 
has a young man named Stevenson (who recently came 
among us) set up against him. But we all have to abide 
the critics, who are an ephemeral race, and we can afford to 
do it, if we continue to appeal to the public as I seem to be 
doing. 

Lord Byron. You are more fortunate than I am, by 
Jove ! I've had the critics down on me for a long time, and 
they tell me I'm losing the public too — that is the English 
public whose smug primness you have comprehended and 
I have felt. But what special mark of public favor have you 
received? 

[3771 



378 The Sewanee Review. 

Balzac. Why, I am told that there are two rival trans- 
lations of my entire works being published in England and 
America, and that one of them is edited with introductions 
by a distinguished English critic, a Mr. Saintsbury. Do 
you know anything of him, my Lord? 

Lord Byron. Well, I rather think I do know the fellow. 
So he is introducing you to the English public, bless his 
impudence? He has had a little to say about me, too, re- 
cently — with considerable impunity now that my satirizing 
days are over. 

Balzac. Why. my Lord, I hope he has unearthed no 
silly scandal about you as that unfortunate American au- 
thoress did years ago. I haven't forgot the foul taint the 
report of it gave to the fresh air we breathe here, air as pure 
and sweet as that of my own Touraine, which on earth al- 
ways made me quote our common friend Horace — 

Ille terrarum mihi praeter omnes 
Angulus ridet — 

you know the rest. 

Lord Byron. Oh ! yes ; I knew my Horace quite well 
once upon a time — in fact was too much enamoured of him,, 
so the critics say. But to answer your question, I am sorry 
to inform you that Saintsbury has discovered no new scan- 
dal about me. I could have stood that as well as George 
Eliot can the same chap's cheap flings at her private char- 
acter. No, Professor Saintsbury — he instructs youths now, 
you know, having instructed adults in all matters from gas- 
tronomy to Tory politics — not such a far cry by the way 
— no, Professor Saintsbury has openly brought a charge of 
a different sort against me that has only b een rumored 
hitherto. 

Balzac. What is that, my Lord? Anew charge against 
you that is not scandalous? It must indeed be remarkable ; 
though for the matter of that a new scandal would be just 
as hard to conceive of, considering the malignity of your 
enemies and the brutality of the Anglo-Saxon philistine. 

Lord Byron. Well, as I intimated, this is not exactly 



A Conversation in Hades. 379? 

a new charge, only it has never been so openly and un- 
blushingly made before. In short, dear M. de Balzac, Pro- 
fessor Saintsbury affirms that I am not a great poet, indeed 
he almost tries to show that I 'm no poet at all. 

Balzac. Que ces Anglais sont droles ! But surely, my 
Lord, you must be chaffing me, as you other English say. 
No man who valued his reputation, no man, pardon my ap- 
parent vanity, who has the good sense to appreciate me, 
would think of committing such a folly. 

Lord Byron. I was never more serious in my life, 
M. de Balzac, not even when I espoused the cause of Greek 
independence or when I wrote the verses on my thirty-sixth 
birthday. Mr. Saintsbury will not allow me a leg to stand 
on. It gives him a positive pain to read me in connection 
with any great English poet, like my friend Shelley, for in- 
stance, who when alive thought that I could write poetry, 
and thinks so still. 

Balzac. But, my dear Lord Byron, I am amazed at the 
man's impudence. What ! the poet that Goethe praised, 
that the Europe of my day worshipped, to whom I myself 
paid my humble tribute, whom Europe still admires — this 
poet is ranked as a mere impostor by a man who finds 
publishers and readers ! Why, the thing is incredible, be- 
sides it touches me nearly. 

Lord Byron. How so, my dear friend? 

Balzac. Why, you forget. This man is introducing 
me to the English public? Mon dieu, how is he doing it? 
Perhaps he is murdering my reputation at this very mo- 
ment. What can I do to stop him? Oh, my Lord, this is 
terrible. We don't get books here and I couldn't read 
his English if we did. Is there no way to get word to my 
friends on earth to disclaim the translation? Dear me, what 
shall I do? 

Lord Byron. Calm yourself, dear M. de Balzac. I 
really believe he condescends to like you, and he'll certainly 
do you no harm. Nor will he do me any. It may comfort 
you to know that I have just heard of two magnificent edi— 



380 The Sewanee Review. 

tions of my works that are to be shortly undertaken — one 

by a descendant of my old friend John Murray. I'd give a 

good deal to be able to send him some verses just as I used 

to send to his ancestor : 

My dear young John Murray, 

Pray be in a hurry 

To get out your great new edition ; 

If on earth it don't go 

Just ship it below, 

And I'll retail it here on commission. 

Come, my dear M. de Balzac, as Virgil says 

Majoresque cadunt altis de montibus umbrae. 

Since we are good and peaceable spirits, it is time for us to 
retire and leave Mr. Saintsbury to gang his own gait. 

William Percival.